Unite has called on the UK government to provide funding for extra bus services and to make the wearing of face masks mandatory to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 on overcrowded buses.
The union believes that it is up to the government to take action to ensure the safety of passengers and bus drivers, as concerns grow regarding the overcrowding of buses in London.
Unite is calling for the government to provide extra funding for more bus services on busy commuter routes, as well as clear guidance on the maximum capacity of buses and to make it mandatory for passengers to wear face masks. Unite also want the government to take the lead on enforcing this guidance, rather than expecting bus drivers to take action themselves.
The union has advised its members that if overcrowding continues to be a problem and becomes so dangerous as to threaten their safety, then they should stop work immediately and remove themselves from the danger.
Unite’s regional officer for London buses, John Murphy, said:
Pictures of overcrowded buses are frightening and action must be taken immediately. The government is on the one hand telling people to go back to work but on the other failing to provide the means for them to get there safely.
Overcrowding can only be resolved by the government providing additional funding to run more buses during peak hours and introducing strict rules on policing the number of passengers on each bus. To greatly reduce the dangers of transmission of COVID-19 the wearing of face masks must become mandatory; merely advising passengers to wear them is simply not clear enough. Policing overcrowding cannot and will not be the responsibility of the driver.
During the pandemic at least 30 bus workers have lost their lives in London. Huge efforts have been made to protect the workforce and Unite will not allow that to be compromised. We have advised members of their right to withdraw from serious and imminent danger in line with the legal protections that exist, and that where they are forced to do so they will receive Unite’s full support.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has also voiced its concern about the risks of overcrowding today, saying that crowded train, tube and bus services are “categorically less safe” and should not run unless two-metre social distancing can be enforced.
The union said that unless to government took urgent action to enforce social distancing, then public transport would become a “turbo-charged COVID-19 breeding ground”.
The RMT said that the advice it is giving to members is in line with the government’s own advice on the two-metre social distancing rule, along with industry assurances that all train services should run with 80% fewer passengers.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
We have a contradictory and potentially lethal approach from government which says on the one hand when we go outside our homes into open spaces two-metre social distancing must be maintained at all times, but then on the other hand the government is not lifting a finger to prevent the cramming of passengers into confined spaces on bus, train and Tube services.
We have seen the consequences of the governments contradictory response in the pictures of rammed out buses and Tube carriages.
The union is saying categorically that public transport is less safe if passengers cannot practice two-metre social distancing. The government must take action to enforce it’s own public health policies otherwise public transport will become a turbocharged COVID-19 breeding ground driving a second spike of infections.
With the premature relaxation of the lockdown many people feel they have no choice but to go back to work for purely economic reasons. They do not have the cushion of savings and the option of working from home. This is now clearly a class issue with a dividing line between those who have to work or provide essential services and those able to make the choice to stay at home.